In 1866, however, 33 of those former slaves purchased the church for $1,500 and made it the first African American church in Wilson County. There was an annex built onto the back of the chapel to hold Sunday school classes and Harris said there was even a kitchen.
She attended the church as a little girl and remembered it fondly. She even met her husband, Harry Harris, at Pickett Chapel.
I grew up in this church. We walked from the east side of town every Sunday, she said.
During the Civil Rights Movement, in the 1960s, Harris said the church was a meeting place for local activists. At that time, Harris also noted the church was the first place for African American children to attend Vacation Bible School, which most churches hold every summer now.
The congregation left in 1973 when a new church was constructed, and Harris said Pickett Chapel was turned into a community playhouse. The small, cramped balcony where slaves once worshiped on Sunday was then used to hold lighting equipment for stage productions.
Walking through the church Harris pointed out a pile of bricks that are stacked on the concrete floor of the annex. She said those bricks were laid by slaves, who did most, if not all, of the work to build the church.
The Wilson County Black History Committee has been laboring since 2007 to raise money and restore the chapel so it can house their history museum. Last year, the east wall was stabilized and repaired. Now, the committee is working on the roof, doors and windows.
With those repaired, were hoping to be able to move in here from the current space on the Square, Harris said.
During the construction process, Harris said theyve received donations from many sources, but the economys downturn has hurt recent contributions. A member of the Democratic Party of Wilson County has been helping the committee with grant writing, hoping to attract money from the state.
Weve also worked with Home Depot, theyve given us some discounts on supplies, Harris said.
She has hopes of the chapel housing the museum that will begin with the history of African tribes who were taken as slaves at the start of the Atlantic slave trade, and continue with slavery in America, then to the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement and finally, local African American history.
Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at email@example.com.